Last month, on Thursday, May 18, pastor Harry L. Reeder of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a large PCA church in Birmingham, was killed in an automobile accident. The next day, May 19, pastor Timothy J. Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City, succumbed to cancer. In the space of about 24 hours the PCA lost two of its most influential pastors—and that on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the denomination’s founding. Tributes to both men have been popping up all over the Internet.
I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said that death is the ultimate statistic: one out of every one dies. Taking a more humorous approach, Woody Allen wrote, “It’s not that I fear death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Death is something we cannot avoid, yet almost everyone avoids talking about it; it’s a real conversation killer.
For the believer in Christ, however, death, while unpleasant, is the doorway to a new and better life. Yes, death is ugly; death is harsh. Death is the result of living in a fallen world. And yet, for the Christian, death is simply the last negative step in the process of our sanctification. Death, for the Christian, has lost its sting (I Corinthians 15:55-57). As Thomas Watson wrote, “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds.” As the poet John Donne wrote,
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we recite the Apostles Creed, in which we state our belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. The Heidelberg Catechism explains how those truths comfort us. “Not only my soul will be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but even my very flesh, raised by the power of Christ, will be reunited with my soul and made like Christ’s glorious body.” (HC 57) “Even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, so after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God eternally.” (HC 58)
Yes, we do mourn when loved ones die; with their families and their congregations we mourn the loss of Harry Reeder and Tim Keller. But those two men right now are experiencing more blessedness than we can even imagine. They are beholding the face of their Savior. They know better than they ever did before that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
On earth they sought the Savior’s grace, on earth they loved his name;
So now they see his blessed face, and stand before the Lamb,
Singing, “Glory, glory, glory be to God on high.” (Anne H. Shepherd)
Dear believer, that blessedness awaits you. Your Savior has gone to prepare a place for you (John 14:2-3). Not even death can separate you from Him (Romans 8:38-39). May you sing with the hymnwriter,
And when my task on earth is done,
when, by thy grace, the victory’s won,
e’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
since God through Jordan leadeth me. (Joseph H. Gilmore)
Steve Hoogerhyde is an elder at GRC.